Although caring for someone with a swallowing disorder can be a rewarding experience, it also presents a unique set of challenges. Below are several strategies you can use to promote a safe, healthy, and fulfilling life for your loved one.
Maintain optimal nutrition and hydration.
For many patients with dysphagia, staying hydrated and getting enough calories, as well as vitamins and minerals, can be difficult[i].
To ensure your family member maintains proper nutrition and hydration, consult with a speech-language pathologist, dietitian, or healthcare professional trained in treating swallowing disorders to design a modified dysphagia diet. Such modified diets usually include thickened foods and liquids that are safer and easier for patients to chew and swallow.[ii]
While no two patients are alike, some foods such as yogurts and smoothies, soups, meatloaf, applesauce, soft fruits, and cooked vegetables can be easier for your family member to swallow and can deter dehydration. On the other hand, crusty breads, tough meats, and sticky foods like peanut butter are not recommended for those with swallowing difficulties.[iii]
Providing your loved one with thickened beverages that look and taste natural can also increase beverage consumption and prevent dehydration. Thick-It® Clear Advantage® ready-to-drink beverages offer those with dysphagia a variety of enjoyable beverage options – including coffee, tea, and juice varieties, in addition to water, which can be flavored to the patient’s choosing.
Promote safe feeding and swallowing techniques.
Dysphagia can increase the risk of aspiration; however, the following tips can help you optimize food intake and safety for your family member during mealtimes:[iv]
- Make sure your loved one is sitting in an upright position while eating and drinking by providing a sturdy chair that allows them to sit comfortably with their feet on the floor.
- Alternate between small bites and sips, encouraging your family member to eat slowly to prevent aspiration. Small bites can also give your loved one more control, reducing the possibility of the food slipping back into the throat before it is properly chewed.
- Ensure all foods and liquids are swallowed before feeding the next bite. Check the mouth to make sure there is no accumulation of food in the cavities of the cheek or on the tongue.
- Prior to feeding, ensure dentures are clean and well-fitted and that your loved one is maintaining good oral hygiene throughout the day. Poor oral health is one of the leading risk factors of aspiration pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening bacterial infection, in individuals with dysphagia.
Enhance quality of life.
To prevent aspiration, many patients with dysphagia must eat slowly and carefully, tilt or turn their heads in a certain direction while swallowing, and modify their diets by switching to soft or liquefied foods. When mealtimes become a burden, many people avoid eating with family and friends and stop going to restaurants, leading to social isolation and depression.[v]
As a caregiver, you can help instill confidence and a sense of independence in your loved one. Involving them in food preparation by including them in meal planning and shopping can raise their self-esteem. During the meal, you can help your family member remain independent while dining by providing adaptive eating tools, such as plates with large rims, cups with lids and wide bases, and non-slip placemats to keep dishes from moving on the table. If they are able, allow your loved one to fully participate in your family’s mealtime routine by letting them help clean up the kitchen.
Before eating out or attending a social gathering, plan ahead by calling the host or restaurant to make sure proper preparations are made for your family member. Taking steps to ensure a smooth outing can help reduce stress and anxiety for you and your loved one.
Are you a caregiver for a loved one with dysphagia? Help other caregivers by leaving your tips and strategies in the comments.